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Archive for the ‘Sociology Job Market’ Category

The history of the sociology job market contains some interesting peculiarities. For example, George Herbert Mead received an M.A. in philosophy from Harvard and then went to Germany to work on his Ph.D. Before his dissertation was completed, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Michigan where he taught philosophy and psychology before later following John Dewey to the University of Chicago. He never completed his Ph.D. (Imagine the field day that a certain job site would have with his hiring today!) It was, I suppose, a different time. (A certain job site does have a field day with discussions of full professors whom it is argued couldn’t get a tenure-track position in today’s market with their current records.) The cases of Howie Becker and Erving Goffman show that not all of the big names in sociology had such an easy time on the job market while reinforcing how different things were back then.

At ASA in San Francisco this year, Howie Becker was the discussant on one of the “Young Ethnographer” panels (the one without Alice Goffman). About the papers, he said something along the lines of “How am I supposed to talk about such different papers at the same time” and then moved on to a discussion of his belief that the best ethnographic work (he actually stated that he prefers the term “field work”) is typically conducted by young people in graduate school who have the benefit of time.* Early in his career, he and his fellow University of Chicago graduate Erving Goffman (if this had been the session with Alice Goffman he could have brought things full-circle…) were unable to find work. So they conducted research.

According to Wikipedia (which has incorrect information about Mead’s education and, thus, may or may not be a reliable source of information on the biographies of sociologists), after completing his Ph.D. Becker conducted research at the Institute for Juvenile Research, in a postdoc at the University of Illinois, and as a research associate at Stanford before starting as a faculty member at Northwestern. Although things might not have seemed too dire because he received his Ph.D. when he was only 23, it was over ten years before Becker started what today would probably be considered his official career. Goffman, meanwhile, worked as a research associate at the University of Chicago and then for the National Institute for Mental Health before beginning as a faculty member at Berkeley.

Becker’s point in discussing the job market woes that he and Goffman experienced at ASA this year was that they both relished the opportunity to focus on research during those years, even as their friends took pity on them. My point in discussing them is to highlight the evolution of job market pathways in the intervening years. While a candidate today might be able to get a postdoc, the increasing reliance on adjunct labor means that the prospects for somebody without a tenure-track job who wants to stay in academia are much more likely to include cobbling together a poverty-level salary from various adjunct positions than earning a comfortable living conducting research. The outcomes of these pathways are also clear, since adjunct teaching leaves little time for building a publication record that will result in an eventual tenure-track job.

Despite what might have been perceived by their friends as early-career stumbles, Becker and Goffman went on to have illustrious careers in sociology and made large contributions to the discipline. How many similar contributions does the current opportunity structure within academia deprive us of?

*Later in his career, he claimed that he found time for field work by being a bad departmental citizen. It is best that we don’t mention the advice that he solicited on this topic from a few esteemed audience members.

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When I was offered a job after going on the market again this year, I knew that this would likely be my only chance to negotiate for pretty much anything. Because the school also has more financial resources than the institution I’m leaving, I wasn’t sure exactly what would be appropriate to ask for (and I definitely wanted to avoid any Nazareth-like situations) but I knew that a request for new office furniture would be necessary.

At my current institution, the entire department had moved and received new furniture a few years before I began, so I inherited furniture that was relatively new. During my campus visit to my new department, though, it was pretty clear that everybody had office furniture from near the time they started. This meant that there was a large difference between the offices of those who had been recently hired and those who have worked there for a decade or more. Since my new institution has more financial stability I also thought that it would be worth asking for an ergonomic desk chair rather than something like I’ve been sitting in for the past five years (and on which I’ve worn through the right armrest twice).

I ended up with a lump sum that I could use to purchase office furniture. Having no idea how much office furniture actually costs, I didn’t think too much about this amount until I recently started planning my office space. Thinking about how I use my current office, I decided that I need a desk for myself as well as something else that I could set things on when I came back from class. Because I’m losing two closets, I also wanted something that would provide some covered storage for the old notebooks and binders that I currently keep out of sight. Finally, inspired by Eric Grollman’s efforts to create a more welcoming environment I wanted to find a table for meeting with students (maybe this post will inspire an update – I’m eager to see how this setup worked during his first year).

Looking at various vendors for these things online and adding up the prices led to the realization that office furniture is expensive! College discounts with certain suppliers mean that I should be able to get everything I want, but only after spending thousands of dollars on furniture that is in no way “fancy” (look at Grollman’s desk for comparison – it will be all flat surfaces with no handles for me). Although the cost is high, this furniture is likely to last at least a decade, if not longer*. It is interesting, then, that the amount I was given for purchasing office furniture was less than the amount I was given for purchasing technology like a computer and monitor that is unlikely to be in use even five years in the future (based on the title of this post, I believe that this is what they call “burying the lede”).

I feel like the fact that a school is willing to spend more money on short-term technology than office furniture that will be in use for much longer says something about priorities these days, either of institutions or their faculty. Because I’m still recovering from a long year, however, I’m not sure what that something is. Maybe it is related to students who choose schools based on sports teams and climbing walls. Or maybe it just demonstrates that we spend too much money on computers. Have you seen how much Apple charges for RAM?

*At home I use a Steelcase desk that I bought used for $20 12 years ago. Given the color it was probably at least 15-20 years old when I bought it.

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Although I’ve highlighted posts before that focus on the other side of the job market – that of the search committee – I’ve still never been on one myself. I’m sure that the excitement about seeing the other side of the process quickly wanes when sorting through hundreds of applications, but I still look forward to the day I get to unravel a bit of the mystery. In the meantime, here are two posts from Dr. Mellivora at Tenure She Wrote:

The first deals with writing the job ad, sorting through applications, and conducting phone interviews. As a new member of a STEM department of six at a public institution, her experiences are likely similar to those of many at liberal arts institutions.

The second post deals with campus interviews and the selection process and concludes with some general advice. Most interesting in this part is the revelation that in her department, faculty and the chair can recommend different candidates for hire and, in her case, she was not the choice of the department as a whole.

Hopefully I will be part of many search committees before I decide to do something like going on the market again. I wonder, though, if those who have seen the other side of the process feel better or worse about their chances as candidates after seeing how the sausage is made.

Facebook, blah, blah, blah.

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The first time I was on the job market, Colin Jerolmack was also on the job market. Of course, I didn’t actually know his name. I only knew him as “the pigeon guy” and that there was a highly-sought-after job candidate who studied pigeons. It seemed to work out pretty well for him. A quirky research topic is not necessarily job market gold, however, as Todd Platts recently discussed at Inside Higher Ed.

Platts studies zombies, and while the job market is obviously a mystery, there are some important distinctions between Jerolmack and Platts. First, of course, is the fact that Jerolmack worked with Mitch Duneier as a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center while Platts graduated from the University of Missouri. Beyond a famous advisor, though, Jerolmack also effectively framed his research within the broader sociological context. For example, part of the description of his book, The Global Pigeon, states, “By exploring what he calls “the social experience of animals,” Jerolmack shows how our interactions with pigeons offer surprising insights into city life, community, culture, and politics.” Rather than using our fascination with zombies to illuminate some aspect of everyday social life, Platts appears to use sociology to illuminate zombies. Finally, the types of institutions that Platt has targeted in his job searches are less likely to have room for esoteric research topics.

None of this is to say that Platt isn’t worthy of a job, or even that there are problems with his job market materials. It does suggest that there are differences in professional socialization at different types of sociology graduate programs and that finding an advisor who will encourage you to follow your dreams without helping you situate those dreams within mainstream sociology might not be the best approach to finding a job in a tough market. The ability to balance freedom with professional socialization is important to consider whether choosing between graduate programs or choosing whether to go to graduate school at all.

Yes, Memoirs of a SLACer is still on Facebook.

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This year Alpha Kappa Delta, the sociology honor society, put on teaching and learning preconferences at a number of regional conferences. I was fortunate to attend one of these and I came away with a lot of new ideas for things to try in my courses. This experience also provided a reminder that there are great people everywhere. While there were people present from all kinds of institutions, the most interesting discussion I took part in was led by a professor at a community college who had a lot of great ideas for engaging students both inside and outside of the classroom.

I have written a lot about the academic job market over the years and my experiences going on the market twice have reinforced the notion that you are not the status of your institution. Institutional resources and departmental norms may influence the amount and type of work that somebody is able to do, but we should not assume that those things influence the quality of somebody’s work, much less their intelligence. It is frustrating when sociologists overlook the structures that lead to differences in status and it is important to remind ourselves from time to time that at a conference the name of somebody’s institution is not as important as the name above it.

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One of the biggest questions that I had when deciding to go on the job market again as an advanced assistant professor is how my record would be perceived in comparison to other candidates. Although I was wary of of lowering my publication expectations to meet the requirements at my current institution, I also faced the reality of life as an assistant professor with a 3-3 teaching load and high advising and service expectations. As a result, I had several concerns:

My first concern was how my record compared with the records of candidates who were ABD. Although I taught a lot of courses as a graduate student, my teaching experience since that time coupled with strong course evaluations was likely hard for ABDs to match. On the other hand, I have only published a few peer-reviewed papers since graduate school, so it is likely that many ABD candidates had stronger publication records than me.

My second concern was how my record compared with the records that search committees imagined candidates who were ABD having by the start of their fifth years. Again, my teaching probably compared favorably (or at least was not a liability), but it would have been easy for search committees to imagine the publication possibilities that awaited a freshly-minted Ph.D. Comparing my “real” publication record to the “potential” of another candidate (whether or not the candidate would ever reach this potential) was probably not in my favor.

My final concern was how my record compared with the records of others who were going on the market again. Because the job market was bad for a number of years after I obtained my current job it is likely that there were a lot of people who were attempting to improve their situations. For example, of the 124 hires currently listed on the Sociology Job Market Forum, 46 are clearly identified as people who had been tenure-track faculty, post docs, or visiting assistant professors. Again, my teaching likely looked fine, but there was the familiar question about my publications.

In the end, the extent to which these comparisons mattered probably depended on what the department was looking for. There were a lot of schools that I did not receive interest from, but I have no way of knowing why they weren’t interested. In some cases, these sorts of comparisons may have come into play. In others, they may have disliked the font that I chose for my CV or had a grudge against one of my graduate school advisors. As I’ve argued in the past, there is nothing one can do about these sorts of mysteries of the job market, so it is best to focus on the things that can actually be affected.

As a point of comparison, the institution that I will be joining in the fall has a ranking that is very similar to an institution where I interviewed when on the market the first time. When I compared my record to the person who was hired by that institution instead of me, I found myself lacking. Comparing our records today reveals an even larger gap, suggesting that they may have made the right choice (or that the lower teaching load and higher levels of institutional support allowed that person to focus more on research…).

Interestingly, though, the institution has hired several other people since that time and none of them have a record that is comparable to the person who was hired instead of me back in 2008. At the time, I thought that I was not qualified for the position. In hindsight, it appears that it would have been hard for anybody to compete with the candidate who was hired and in another year I might have gotten the job. I also don’t know what stood out to the search committee that decided to hire me over other candidates this year.

Idiosyncrasies like these are of no comfort to those on the market who do not get jobs. Neither is the statement that “there were many qualified candidates” that I have seen in so many rejection e-mails. At the end of the day candidates are left to do the best they can and hope that one of these idiosyncrasies tilts the opinions of a search committee in their favor.

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At my current institution, there is a constant battle between faculty members who are interested in preserving the mission of the school and administrators who are interested in preserving the financial stability of the school. Unfortunately, the perspectives of these parties are often at odds. For example, although the creation of programs for non-traditional students several decades ago essentially saved the school financially, there are some faculty members who feel that this move took our institution down a path from which it cannot return. These tensions were present when I visited five years ago, but they have increased recently as continued financial struggles require faculty members to take on more responsibilities without the possibility of raises.

As a result of these tensions, during interviews (whether phone, Skype, or campus) one of the questions that I asked nearly everybody concerned the relationship between the faculty and administration and my questions for administrators always focused on their goals for the institution and how they saw their institution fitting into the changing landscape of higher education in the next few decades. Answers to these questions differed dramatically based on the institution’s financial stability. Those at wealthier schools focused on their vision for the college and ways that they were trying to improve student experiences while those at schools with fewer resources talked about how “every school” experiences financial difficulties that cause tensions between the faculty and administration.

Even at the most elite private schools, with endowments measured in the billions, financial resources affect academic decisions. I am interested in seeing, however, how these tensions will play out at my new, more financially stable institution in the fall. Although there are no special programs for nontraditional students, there is certainly a large number of underpaid adjuncts teaching important courses that allow the school to function. It will also be interesting to track my own perceptions of these differences, such as whether I will see things as less problematic than faculty members who have not worked at schools with fewer resources. In any event, raises will be nice. (Clearly, this is proof that I have already sold out!)

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